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The Whys and Hows of Expressing Breast Milk

When Is the Right Time?

Knowing when to express will vary for each woman. It will also depend on your baby's age. If your little one is younger than six months old, you may need to express milk about every three hours (equivalent to how often they would nurse) to help maintain your milk supply.
In many cases, mothers will express their milk in the mornings, when milk supply is often at its peak. If you work outside the home, you'll need to express milk at work in most cases. If your child is able to eat solids or you are supplementing with formula, you may need to express your milk only once or twice a day, or to relieve feelings of engorgement.
For babies younger than six months old, it is often recommended to talk to your healthcare provider about your particular situation. They may recommend waiting to express your milk until your baby is at least several weeks old to help avoid "nipple confusion." This can happen when babies who are breastfeeding are introduced to a bottle. Once babies use a bottle and realize they don't have to work as hard at getting lots of milk, trying to get them to breastfeed again may be a challenge.
Also, expressing milk too soon may cause you to produce too much milk. Your healthcare provider or lactation specialist can help you to work out a schedule that fits best with your particular situation.

Choosing a Method

Again, the method chosen for expressing milk will vary for each woman. If you have to be separated from your baby on a regular basis, or if there is a delay in breastfeeding after birth, then using a pump may be your best option. There is a vast array of pumps to consider, including:
  • Hand-operated pumps
  • Small, motorized single pumps
  • Automatic double-breast pumps.
When considering which pump will work best for you, some of the factors to consider include cost and how often you will need to use it. While federal law now requires most health insurance plans to cover the cost of buying or renting a pump, the law doesn't require them to pay for any pump you choose. For instance, some plans may only cover a manual pump.
If you will only be expressing milk on a short-term basis, you might look at the possibility of renting a pump; some hospitals and lactation programs may offer this option. Also, if your need to express milk is only a now-and-then thing, another option would be to manually express your breasts. However, this can be time-consuming and is a skill that should be learned with the help of a lactation specialist.
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